Tuesday, December 26, 2006

How to grade papers

Grading papers is always time consuming. The most important thing in marking work is the feedback provided to the student: what they actually did well, where they could improve, how to be a better writer. Of course, most students just want the bottom line.

I fell across this blog post which provides a method for grading essays; I've used this method before, and I look forward to the opportunity to try it -- and all the suggestions in the comments to the post -- starting next September.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

From the land of "You've got to be kidding"

Another absurdity; perhaps you've seen this: Patrick Agin, a senior at a high school in Rhode Island, has been told that his picture cannot be published in his yearbook. In the picture, posted here, he's dressed in medieval chain mail with a broadsword over his shoulder; Mr. Agin is something of a medieval enthusiast; he's a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which promotes re-enactments of medieval history.

From yesterday's New York Times:
The Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit supporting Mr. Agin’s free-speech rights to use the photo, and both sides have agreed to take the matter to the state education commissioner.

The civil liberties organization said the school’s position took zero tolerance well past the point of common sense.

“It’s a perfect example of bureaucratic ridiculousness,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island branch of the organization. “We have had zero-tolerance cases before, one where a district punished a kindergartner for bringing in a butter knife, and another where a school suspended two first graders who brought a toy ray gun. But this case is even more ridiculous, since Patrick was not even bringing the weapon to school.”

The school’s position is particularly untenable, he said, given that the school mascot is a Revolutionary War soldier carrying a rifle.
Oh, in case you didn't catch on, the school is opposed to the sword. I guess they're afraid he'll leap off the pages, like some fantasy movie, and start swinging.

But here's the real absurdity:
The school has offered to let Mr. Agin buy a yearbook ad showing the photo. By itself, that takes the whole situation into the surreal, the civil liberties organization said.

“I guess they think it’s a danger to the school system on Page 6, but not on Page 26,” Mr. Brown said.
Hypocrites; that's all I can say. Hypocrites.

While there is no freedom of speech in an independent school, I've found independent school leaders to be more reasonable than the (pardon the pun) gun-shy administrators in public schools. I'm reminded of the recent Captain Underpants incident out on Long Island... but that's for another post (or did I already post about it?)...

Why independent schools?

Recently, a few of my friends and colleagues have asked me why I'm looking to teach in a boarding school. I have a variety of reasons, some of which I discuss here. Then, today, I saw this bit from Robert Kennedy who writes the About.com site for private schools. Here he's talking about independent schools and his love for them:
I like the way they bring out the best in their students. I like being able to teach as opposed to just being a traffic cop. I abhor monopolies and relish competition. Private schools offer competition and an alternative to public education. Let's not lose sight of that basic fact. The egalitarian and other social issues serve merely as a smoke screen to obscure what is wrong with public education in America.
Good stuff. Sure, there are some things about independent schools which aren't pretty, but that could also be said about public schools. The bottom line: if I want to dedicate my life to teaching and working in schools, I want to do it in an environment where I can make a difference, where I can feel save, where I can develop deep and meaningful relationships with everyone in the community, where the values of the institution are aligned with my own values and where we actually strive to live those values, and where mediocrity isn't tolerated but meritocracy is demanded.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The holiday lull

Last year, I started my search for a boarding school job during the Christmas holidays. While this year I began my search much earlier in the year, getting the bulk of my introductory emails out the door during November, things have now slid to a halt. All is quiet. Frankly, all is too quiet.

While I've had some nibbles -- a long phone interview with a school here in Virginia; hopeful emails from a New England school that is likely going to be looking for a 1/2 time English, half-time history teacher; great conversations with former college classmates -- everything has stopped. Perhaps it is the Thanksgiving/Christmas doldrums. I can't imagine that any head of school would put much focus during these weeks on finding new faculty. Yes, making faculty choices is likely the most important thing a head can do. But, this is the time for holiday cheer and trimming the tree and feasts galore.

And, yet, I'm antsy. It doesn't matter that I know -- intellectually -- that this is a slow time; emotionally, I want to answer my call. Waiting... well, waiting is tough.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Transparency and community

Photo by Andrew Councill for The New York Times

The New York Times recently published an interesting article by Diana Jean Schemo about college presidents who blog. The articles lead was about Patricia A. McGuire, the president of Trinity University in Washington, D.C., who's pictured above. Seems Dr. McGuire has taken to blogging, running contrary to some pundits' counsel.

Veterans of campus public relations disasters warn that presidents blog at their peril; "an insane thing to do" is how Raymond Cotton, a lawyer who advises universities and their presidents in contract negotiations, describes it. But these presidents say blogs make their campuses seem cool and open a direct line, more or less, to students, alumni and the public.

"When I first started learning about blogs, I said, 'Well, here I like to discourse on issues of the day, connect with the campus community,'" recalled Dr. McGuire, who said she wrote all her own entries. "Here’s a way I can talk a couple of times a week to everybody."

And so she does: about Representative Nancy Pelosi, class of 1962, who will be the first female speaker of the House; about election results; about breaking ground for a memorial to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and about lesbian alumnae and the Roman Catholic Church, sensitive ground for a Catholic undergraduate college serving mostly minority and low-income women.
Insane or not, I believe blogging can very much be the right thing to do. For one thing, it gives the leader a chance to lead, to paint the vision, to provide guidance and direction, to help propel the learning community in the right direction.

Sure, blogging has its pitfalls, but I believe the possibilities for good far outweigh any chance of stumbling.

While Ms. Schemo notes that the presidents she spoke with think "blogs make their campuses seem cool and open a direct line, more or less, to students, alumni and the public," I'd go a step or two farther. Blogs are about transparency; blogs are about leadership. Blogs are about transparency in leadership.

I'd also say that Dr. McGuire shows how to do it.

Some would say that even Dr. McGuire's blog isn't truely a blog, but more of a PR outlet; one mid-west blogger goes so far as to say that posting only once or twice a week doesn't make a blog. Well, if that's the case, right now, you're not reading a blog.

I've only found one head of an independent school who blogs: Malcolm Gauld at Hyde Schools. My only complaint with Malcom's blog is that it doesn't have an RSS feed. ;-)

Are there other schools that promote blogs from senior leaders? While plenty of schools have letters posted on their school websites or chapel sermons or other opportunities of communication, only blogs provide a way to generate two-way communication and can help build community.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

He left his common sense at home

I'm amazed at this story. Seems a middle school science teacher had students use the same lancet to prick their fingers to draw blood to examine under microscopes.
Nearly two dozen students at a middle school in Redwood City will have to undergo blood tests Tuesday for Hepatitis and the AIDS virus because of a science experiment that should never have taken place.

The health department is meeting with worried parents Monday night.

A substitute teacher let kids use the same needle to pierce their fingers to draw blood to look at it under a microscope. They should have swabbed their mouths instead.
Here's a reason for small, flexible schools. When I taught, we never had substitutes; if a teacher had to miss, we covered, either taking classes (classes which were not dissimilar from what we were already teaching) or doubling-up for something unique or providing a library/research assignment. We'd never have a substitute who could mess things up like this.

We were each capable of messing things up without help from the outside. ;-)

Yes, that was a feeble attempt at humor.

Noted one student: It looked strange. Shouldn't he at least clean it or something? Speak up, young lady, speak up. Perhaps we need to focus on critical thinking, common sense, and speaking-truth-to-power in our curricula...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What is important?

I've been reading Alfie Kohn's What Does it Mean to Be Well-Educated?: And Other Essays on Standards, Grading, and other Follies. I've been reading it not for class or because someone recommended it; I've been reading it because it's been sitting on my shelf looking as if it wanted to be read. This is an awesome read. Somehow, I'd missed Kohn in my earlier educational readings which focused on two other power houses, Howard Gardner and Ted Sizer. My new triumvirate: Kohn, Sizer, & Gardner.

Gardner is usually known for his research and writings on multiple intelligences; Sizer is best known for his Coalition for Essential Schools and his belief that schools "should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well." Kohn sees "pervasive standardized testing and excessive homework" as diluting education; we're creating systems that push our students away from what is truly important.

And then, today, in the Washington Post, I came across this wonderful op/ed piece, Today I Will Buck Standardized Objectives, by Crissie Traugott, a fifth-grade teacher, in Frederick County, MD. She writes,
Many teachers are required to post their classroom objectives daily. In this fresh culture of "accountability," we are required to publicly defend what we are teaching and why it's important. This amuses me because I imagine other professions having to do this.

Today patients will receive an immunization in order to fight disease.

Today riders will travel in my cab in order to reach a chosen destination.

Today in class, my curriculum-based objectives could have shared valuable chalkboard real estate with the following:

Today students will practice lockdown procedures in order to avoid violent intruders in our school.

Today students will work in teams in order to see that outstanding work can be produced with cooperation and dedication.

Today students will enjoy a book for reasons other than taking a test in March.

Today students will enjoy an impromptu lesson about spiders in order to debunk the myth that they are brain-eating creatures running under Zach's desk.

You certainly won't find these objectives tested in the spring; however, my students' development was unmistakably enriched by these moments. Lesson plans are tentative and fickle, as the teaching profession is an unpredictable roller-coaster ride filled with steep climbs, unexpected loops and breathtaking drops.

One thing is for certain, though: I cherish every minute of the ride.
I wonder how she can take those moments when those moments clearly don't further the goals of her school. And I wonder what we are doing to education in America. Our public schools are so concerned about scores on standardized tests, scores that tell us not much more, perhaps, than the socio-economic background of the students and how well they take multiple choice, standardized tests.

Do these assessments tell us how much students love and live, how much students incorporate learning into their lives and have enthusiasm for learning, how much mastery students show over real and applied knowledge, or how much intellectual inquiry students demonstrate? No, not at all.

And for this reason, and many more, I choose to not teach in a public school, a school where No Child Left Behind and standardized test scores drive every minute, where posting daily objectives is mandatory, where good teaching is killed under the guise of higher standards.

No, give me a school that thrives on truly engaging students, truly encouraging students to become life long learners, and truly assessing students through a robust system of demonstration, exhibition, and assessment. Please, please, please, give me such a school.

For your reading pleasure, check out books by Alfie Kohn, Ted Sizer, and Howard Gardner, if you haven't already.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rejection: This is how it ought to be done

I found the following rejection letter online and thought it was just too funny to pass up:
Herbert A. Millington
Chair - Search Committee
412A Clarkson Hall
Whitson University
College Hill, MA 34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Whitson's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor in your department this August. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.


Chris L. Jensen
I think it's awesome. I'll have to use it... Mr. Jensen's approach is certainly better than some of my whining last February. Mr. Jensen's approach is straight-forward and precise. I like it. Best of luck in rejecting future applicants. You don't say...

Monday, November 06, 2006

An early jump on the process

Well, I'm off to a good and early jump on the search process. I've sent electronic letters to the head of every school that meets my criteria. Responses have begun to trickle in; no one, of course, has a good sense yet of what their needs for next year will be. The chase begins...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

How we learn; how we teach

I spend a little time every day surfing the web for information about the things that interest me. I use Bloglines and Google Reader to help me sort through the hundreds of news, blog, website, and picture posts. I like Bloglines better than the Google Reader, but I use both as each has certain good characteristics.

Yesterday, I read this post on Weblogg-ed about learning and the use of new technologies. Will Richardson wrote
I’ve been growing more frustrated lately and I’m feeling more pessimistic about the prospects for any serious change in how we as an education system see teaching and learning, and I think I’ve figured out why. I hate to generalize, but the thing that seems to be missing from most of my conversations with classroom teachers and administrators is a willingness to even try to re-envision their own learning, not just their students. Many will say that they understand to varying degrees the changes that are occurring, that the Web is in many ways rewriting the rules of communication and socialization, that the world our students enter when they leave us will be much different from the ones we ourselves were prepared for. But it feels like there is this unspoken belief among most that we can deal with these changes without changing ourselves. And that’s is a huge problem.

Lots of teachers I talk to want blogs and podcasts and wikis. Without question, there are thousands of teachers, tens of thousands in fact, who are already using the tools with their students. I see new examples every day. But I’m still bothered by the fact that very, very rarely do I see new pedagogies to go along with them that prepare students for the creation of their own learning networks. That allow them to take some ownership (or at least envision the possibility of it) over their learning. That help them learn self-direction and get them to stop waiting for someone else to initiate the learning. And even rarer is to find one of those teachers exploring his or her own learning through the tools.
This was all interesting, and important, but it was the next paragraph that struck me:
More than anything else, I think, teaching is modeling. As a writing teacher, I wrote with my students. As a journalism teacher, I wrote for publication with my students. As a literature teacher, I practiced and modeled reading for my students. Modeling is teaching, and never has that been made more apparent to me than when my own children act out and reflect my own bad behavior back to me. (It happens more than I like to admit.) My own kids, it has become clear, learn less when I talk, more when I do. And so it is with me.
Teaching is modeling. Much like Ted Sizer's "teacher as coach" metaphor, but I like Richardson's image as it dictates that the teacher do. In the classroom, we must model all the behaviors we want our students to adopt, and appropriate use of technology is one of those things we must model.

Another notion that grabs me about this post is that as a teacher, I must always be learning and must be always on the lookout for new, innovative, and better ways of doing things. And, that goes for parenting, too. Actually, I think that goes for life in general.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Money isn't everything: Do what you love and the money will follow

roedean school
Originally uploaded by featherboa.
This morning, I heard from an old Trinity classmate who is an administrator at a small boarding school. She provided me with some great information and insight, and re-affirmed for me that I'm making the right move. Not like I've had any doubts, but she reminded me why I'm doing this: to make a difference in students' lives. She had this great image of working with students and the type of students she wanted to work with as she was looking, so many years ago. She wrote that she "could really HELP struggling, disenfranchised students instead of just dusting them off and sending them on to Harvard." I love it: "instead of just dusting them off and sending them on." Indeed.

She also had this to say about my candidacy with so many years outside of the independent school world:
One thing that always makes me hesitate is looking to try to hire someone who has been in the public sector for a number of years. Small, young schools like mine simply can't offer salaries that are attractive enough to candidates wishing to more out of the public sector to private school. Obviously, there are plenty of well-to-do schools out there for whom salary figures are not a concern, but you will want to perhaps address the knowledge that you know what you're looking at salary-wise, so that schools without a major hiring budget will overlook fears that they would eventually lose you because of salary limits, and instead can focus on your candidacy with a real idea that they could make you an attractive enough offer to actually get you to sign on.
Yes, that could be a concern. I'm a federal servant and, yes, it's decent middle income money (as a GS-12 the range is $62,291to $80,975), and, yes, I know that I'm not going to make that sort of money at a boarding school. I know I'm going to take a salary cut. I also know there many benefits of working in a boarding school -- room & board... free tuition for children -- that make working in a boarding school much more attractive than at first blush.

So, yes, I'd like to make a living wage, and I'd like to be remunerated for a my experience and education, but I know my take home pay is going to be severely reduced. That comes with the territory. Money isn't everything, though. I'm mature enough to realize that.

So, dear hiring authorities, don't fret about the money. I'm not. And, I'm sure we can work it out. I'm sure nearly any school can make an attractive enough offer to actually get me to sign on...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Position Wanted" ad

Over at Privateschool.About.com, Robert Kennedy hosts a "positions wanted" page. I'm on top:
Administrator. Boarding school only. English/history. Seasoned, degreed (Ed.D. ABD, M.A., M.Ed., B.A.) professional seeks faculty or admin position in small boarding school. Additional interest in creative writing, theatre & lacrosse. Proven leader developer.
I wonder who actually scans his page. What can be said in 250 characters or less?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Marketing... over-the-top or undercooked?

After the debacle with Aleksey Vayner and his job-search video, I'm somewhat hesitant to do anything but the straight and narrow. Yes, I know, I'm writing this and you're reading this so we both know that I'm not really towing the line. At least I haven't produced a seven minute video showing me skiing, playing tennis, and dancing the cha cha. I have, however, starting working on a powerpoint to go along with my "web stuff."

Your thoughts? Have I gone Vayner, yet?

Monday, October 16, 2006

The state of education in America

Sometimes I wonder how we, as a country, have made it this far. I'm not sure our educational systems are helping us any; this recent article in the New York Times only accentuates the problem. Let's take great, degreed teachers... and tell them they are not qualified.
Jefferds Huyck stood in a corner of the gymnasium, comfortable in being inconspicuous, as the annual awards ceremony began one Friday last May at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, Calif. He listened as the principal named 16 of Mr. Huyck’s students who had earned honors in a nationwide Latin exam, and he applauded as those protégés gathered near center court to receive their certificates.

Then the principal, Andrew Goldenkranz, said, "And here’s their teacher." Hundreds of students and parents and colleagues rose unbidden in a standing ovation. In that gesture, they were both celebrating and protesting.

As virtually everyone in the audience knew, Mr. Huyck would be leaving Pacific Collegiate, a charter school, after commencement. Despite his doctorate in classics from Harvard, despite his 22 years teaching in high school and college, despite the classroom successes he had so demonstrably achieved with his Latin students in Santa Cruz, he was not considered "highly qualified" by California education officials under their interpretation of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Huh? A doctorate... in the subject he's teaching... and 22 years of demonstrated teaching... and he's not highly qualified? It's no wonder Mr. Huyck is moving cross town to teach at a private school.

In my limited experience, I've found that good independent schools require academic rigor: knowledge of a subject as demonstrated by an academic degree in that subject. Frankly, I'm not sure in what way a couple of courses from an education department at the local college or university is going to really do for Mr. Huyck. I'm not going to go off on a rant about education departments, but it strikes me that Mr. Huyck likely knows more about teaching Latin to high school students than anyone in some ed department.

I'm always leery when I hear of a private school that requires her teachers to be state certified. State certification means very little, at least in my book. And, I guess, in Mr. Huyck's book, too.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The teacher's desk: A thing of the past

Originally uploaded by xJuliex.
I was surprised to see this article, At the Head of Some Classes, Desks Dismissed, in the Washington Post. "Coming out from behind the furniture helps interaction, some teachers say." No kidding.
Years ago, in a classroom that had chalk, blackboards and students seated in neat rows, teacher Lee Dorman had a desk of her own. But she found herself constantly roaming to oversee projects and answer questions. She never used the desk, so she got rid of it

"I just never figured out how on earth to teach sitting down," said Dorman, 58, a veteran teacher at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington County. She calls herself "a walker and a stalker." She carries what she needs in her pockets and keeps students in what she considers a useful state of alertness because they are never quite sure where she is going to be.

Here and there, a small but growing number of teachers is following Dorman's example, educators say, abandoning the traditional classroom power center. To them, a desk is really a ball and chain, distancing them from students.
When I taught, my desk was up against the wall; I never used it. My room, thankfully, had four big tables (maybe 4x8 or so) that I could move around; some days I'd have a big conference table; other days I'd have four tables for small group work. Sometimes I'd stack the tables off to the side, and we'd have no tables.

Here's one fifth grade teacher's comments about the teacher's desk:
I have a beautiful desk in my office at home. It's where I grade papers and plan for my days with the students. A classroom is no place to be planning or grading papers -- it's a place to work with the students. Any other pieces of equipment get in the way of learning, and the kids have enough obstacles as it is. A desk for the teacher in no way helps Johnny have a better life -- everything, and I mean every square inch of Room 56, is carefully designed to help a child discover something for which he is passionate. A desk for me certainly has nothing to do with the child.
Check out the rest of the teacher quotes. Some powerful stuff.

And if you think the students don't know the difference, check out these student comments:
  • Desks make teachers lazy, so they want to sit down. So it's good you don't have one.
  • It gives teachers something to do besides teach us.
  • They distract teachers from going around to help us out.
My sentiments, exactly.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Still here... still looking...

Well, perhaps you could tell nothing panned out in the way of an offer last spring. It's all good; my current job is rolling along well, and I'm finishing up my coursework for the degree I'm working on; I go ABD this December and hope to finish everything in spring.

There's still a part of me that yearns to teach, to be in the classroom. With the start of the school year, it's particularly strong. So, I've been weeding through school data and have come up with the following short list to focus on:

Army and Navy Academy
Asheville School
Blue Ridge School
Bridgton Academy
Buxton School
Camden Military Academy
Cate School
CFS, The School at Church Farm
Christ School
Conserve School
Darrow School
Fishburne Military School
The Forman School
The Gow School
Grand River Academy
Holderness School
Howe Military School & Summer Camp
The Leelanau School
Massanutten Military Academy
Midland School
Millbrook School
New York Military Academy
Orme School
Proctor Academy
The Putney School
St. Andrew's School, DE
St. George's School
Saint James School
St. John's Northwestern Military Academy
St. Mark's School
Salisbury School
Squaw Valley Academy
Tallulah Falls School
Thacher School
Tilton School
Wayland Academy
Wentworth Military Academy & Jr. College
West Nottingham Academy
White Mountain School

I already know a couple of these are going to fall off, but this is my first cut. Perhaps you're wondering what the criteria was? I'm looking for a school that is small (fewer than 350 students) with a strong boarding program (more than 70% of the students are boarders). And, I'm not interested in being in school that has a focus on providing ESL.

Yes, I know; the schools on the list cover the spectrum. I'll take another round-turn in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, April 03, 2006

How to bring a school to the Internet

Originally uploaded by destinyuk*.
I've been thinking about independent schools can use the power of Internet tools -- such as flickr, Blogger, and MySpace -- in terms of communicating with students, parents, alumni, and prospective students & parents.

Robert Kennedy over at about.com has a recent blog post about ways to promote schools. He concludes his post by suggesting,
Marketing your school successfully in today's highly competitive environment requires presenting your message in many different ways.
Sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious, I guess.

One thought I had was creating a blog & a linked flickr site to make daily posts about life at school. Posts could be brief (perhaps as brief as my Notes, but likely a bit longer) with a picture. A quick post about an athletic event or a play or even what was served for lunch. Upload digital pics and blog briefly: maybe 15 to 30 minutes of work daily to provide an ongoing live advertisement about the school and the life of the school.

Monday, March 27, 2006

All quiet

Cloning centre 2
Originally uploaded by Mernas.
All quiet does not mean nothing is going on. As all of us with children know, silence can mean only on thing: they're up to something.

I've been on the road for the last two weeks and have been focusing on work and grad school. I'd like to say my focus has been successful on both counts; to make that utterance might be stretching the truth a wee bit too much. But all is good.

Last week, I received the nix from the final -- of three -- face-to-face interviews. When I shared the news at church yesterday with a few folks during coffee hour, they were happy about the situation -- as has been some folks in the OD arena here at my current employment: perhaps I'll stick around. Perhaps. While I'm still looking and still very interested in getting back into independent schools, I'm also not desperate; this move isn't the be-all and end-all. With a slight shift to doing a little more conflict resolution and work with dysfunctional groups, I think I'd find new challenges to keep me engaged for years more to come. To move, I need to find the right community and the right job; all grass is not greener.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What sort of school?

Frosted Spider Webs
Originally uploaded by .myke.
I'm currently in Houston, facilitating "the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" for 17 fellow Coasties at the air station. I'm working with a colleague from New Orleans, Scott. He picked me up at the airport when I flew in yesterday; on the drive to the hotel, he asked how my search was going.

"Slow, at the moment," I told him. "At the moment, the live leads seem to moving painfully slow, if at all."

And then we got to talking about what I'm specifically looking for. I told him, "I'm primarily interested in college prep, boarding schools for high school students. There's probably only about 280 schools that meet that criteria, and that's just the start."

And then I started to tell him of my other criteria: can't be an all girls school (I have school age sons; part of what I'm looking for is not only a school at which to teach, but for Andrew to attend), needs to predominantly boarding, smaller is better.

As I was going through the list, I was reminded of something I read on Robert Kennedy's "about private schools" blog earlier this month:
When a boarding school has only a handful of day students, the school basically can control the school community's dynamic. Everybody is confined to the campus. Rules and regulations can be enforced. A parent who lives a thousand miles away from the school needn't worry about her son hopping in a day student's car and heading off to enjoy God-knows-what! Unfortunately a private school located in a wealthy suburb will attract a higher percentage of day students than one located in the boondocks. Combine expensive European cars and spoiled teenagers with substantial cash. Add a gorgeous luxury home with no parents present - they are at work, of course. The result? Well, I'll leave that to your imagination.
Actually, Mr. Kennedy hasn't left it to my imagination; I've lived it.

I told Scott that I'd applied recently for a job at a school that had several hundred upper school students, but only forty boarding. If offered the position, I'd actually have to think long and hard about it, since the boarding students would be such a small minority, an after thought in the school's community. I don't really want to be somewhere where the boarding students are an after-thought. I rather be somewhere where the day students are an anomaly and wish they were boarders.

There comes a tipping point where it's all over. I figure 40% day students is about the tipping point. From 1/3 onward, it's a long, quick slippery slide; and the slide is sometimes painful. I'm more impressed with a school that ditches its boarding program (for philosophical reasons) than one that holds on to an ever-shrinking program. Recently, I spoke with an assistant headmaster at a day school which, as recently a decade ago had a boarding program. The program became so small that no only was it not financially sound to continue, but they realized they were doing their students a disservice. That takes guts to make the recognition and follow through.

One of our fine Virginia schools, Saint Catherine's, is closing their boarding program this year. Will the school be the same next year as it is this year; no, but at least they know who they are and what they are about.

Like the commercial says, “Less is more; small is big.”

I'm reminded both of Jim Collins and Good to Great and Bo Burlingham and Small Giants.

Friday, March 10, 2006

March arrives, and we march on

My daddy is great!
Originally uploaded by Tidewater Muse.
This week, we had a little hiccup in the call to return to teaching: a twelve-hour stay in the emergency room and then a deep sleep for nearly 72 hours. Never fear, however, my cheering section is standing tall.

While I did have what I thought to be a good phone interview last week, the result was not overwheliming positive... well, at least on my side.
While you have so many strengths that make you a viable candidate, our pool of applicants...
That's okay, though. I'm reminded things always work out.

I think we all have horror stories from job searches. A couple of years ago, I applied for position as a supervisory consultant (my boss). I came home for lunch, changed into a suit, and headed back to the federal building only three blocks away. Half way there I stepped in dog, ah, feces. I'd cut things too short and didn't have time to return home for a proper cleaning, so I scraped the dung off as best I could and then scampered on.

Later, when I was sitting in the cramped office with the two commanders who were doing the interviewing, I could smell the stuff. So could they. "Sniff. Sniff."

I couldn't bring myself to tell them I'd stepped in dog sh*t on the way over.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Quit your whining, Stinson

Okay, so I was whining a bit this morning. I need to remember this is much like finding a mate; it just takes time... and luck.

In today's email:
My name is Lisa Mullen and I am the Chair of the Search Committee for St. Chelsea-by-the Sea's Assistant Head/Academic Dean position. I have received your materials and would like to speak with you on the phone about your experiences, philosophy, and goals in administration. If you are interested, please let me know when you are available in the next week to speak with me.
Dottie, thank you for passing along my name.

Lost my breath for a bit; sorry.

For Love of Books 2
Originally uploaded by Sol Lang.
I’m a loss for words; and, usually that is certainly not the case.

A bit ago, I followed up my recent interviews at St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill (okay, St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill is not really the name of the school, but we all know I’m not going to throw everything in the open... and St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill knows who they are, if that matters... And, yes, I have changed certain identifying details) with this:
How are things in Buckley Village? I'm finding life hectic here in the Commonwealth and, in terms of my call to return to independent schools, stressful. At least this weekend's snow missed us here in SE Virginia; people here don't know how to cope with more than about a 1/4 inch of snow.

I know how to cope with snow, however, and am looking to returning to the land north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Have you progressed any further with your search for a counselor and/or director of student support services? I've thought long and hard about the opportunities at St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill and would like to continue the conversation, if you're still agreeable. St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill is at the top of my list of possibilities; I believe the roles and responsibilities we discussed play most solidly to my strengths.

I certainly believe the last decade -- helping the Coast Guard create institute cutting-edge leadership & management systems -- provides me the skills & experience to help you, Paul, and the rest of the senior leadership team intentionally create a world-class educational community for students who are "performance oriented." My counseling background is perhaps more important in the near-term.

I am very interested in the bringing my counseling & crisis intervention skills & experiences to St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill to counsel students on personal & social issues and to create & provide programs to help students lead balanced and safe lives led with healthy coping mechanisms. I'm not sure we talked much about my recent crisis intervention experiences as the clinical director for the regional "critical incident stress management" team here in southern Virginia.

And, I'm not sure we talked about my work within the last several years with psychodrama and community-building. More to discuss, anyway...

In thinking about what I saw as the school's current state with regard to counseling & support programming, I was struck by a couple of thoughts...

-- Appears to be a genuine concern by adults for the health (including mental health) of SSH students.

-- Current counseling services don't likely engage anywhere near all the students who could benefit from such services.

-- Someone on campus & skilled in counseling/crisis intervention would be a huge benefit in early intervention & de-escalation of crises...

-- The current system is not comprehensive in nature; school would be served well in the creation of an overarching system of student support, ensuring linkages which may not be present yet providing a holistic campaign of support services.

-- There might be benefit in informal CBWA (counseling by walking around) during evening study hall period during the week.

-- With the ubiquitous use of technology on the SSH, there is the possibility of using computers & the network for tracking student issues and communicating with students using IM/email. Some schools are using a secure back-end system to ensure adults -- teachers, administrators, staff -- who need to know things about students do know about students; also a way for observations to be passed to appropriate personnel from all adults in the community. In terms of communicating with students, some institutions are finding IM to be a good method of allowing students to initiate conversations with adults.

Well, that's it for random thoughts tonight. I do hope all is well at St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill... and I do hope we can continue to discuss the possibility of my becoming a part of your team.

I'm not sure if I provided a resume to you before my visit to campus. You can find a current resume here.

I look forward to hearing from you. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to drop me a line. And, you can continue to find posts about my journey to be called at http://chronicle-of-a-search.blogspot.com; feel free to lurk...


Have a wonderful week; remember, we're nearly half-way through the longest month of the year...


/s/ Peter
A current colleague of mine later noted this was “a well crafted follow-up with skills and style.”

I thought it was okay.

And this is what stole my breath away:
Dear Peter,

It is very good to hear from you -- and as always, enjoying your accurate and concise insights and observations. I am currently attending a conference in Boston, so I had a front-row seat for the recent Nor-Easter...a fantastic show of snow and wind. Today I'll walk the streets taking in the glittering streets and warm (relatively!) sunshine.

As we have gotten further into our planning for next year, we have changed course slightly with the counselor search. We have decided that the credential emphasis must be more on clinical/residential counseling experience rather than system organization. I am sorry there is not room at this point for both -- I think you have a keen eye for organizational behavior and developing systems.

Please stay in touch -- you never know when an opportunity might come up.

Safe travels,

What my colleague really wrote was this:
Damn...I know that hurt...Peter, that was a well crafted follow-up with skills and style like that...don't worry about it. If they aren't interested expand your search...start over...you will find a home...I am sure of it...
I’m usually pretty confident, perhaps (some would say) overly so. I thought the interview went well; I thought I was a pretty good match. I have the counseling skills & background.

Oh, wait, maybe I didn’t emphasize those enough? Another colleague at work is also looking for a new job; he’s had similar issues. He suggested that sometimes hiring managers are looking for someone who has done the job before. He’s suggested that perhaps we have “a failure to communicate.”

As a former headhunter notes,
The other thing that amazed me and frustrated me about being a recruiter was how rigid and myopic many employers were about their job requirements. Many skills and experiences could be learned on the job within several weeks of repeated exposure but many a time I had the ideal candidate didn’t have the required experience listed on his resume despite the fact that his previous history was relevant enough for him to do the job in a very competent fashion.
Now, I don’t want to hang too much on this headhunter’s comments (note his website; I don’t agree with his belief that we should all fluff our resumes; I’d rather be truthful and unemployed, than an employed liar) but I do agree that sometimes employers want demonstration of having done the job before.

I’m not sure that’s the issue with St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill. Both the head and the associate head struck me as more than reasonable people with solid, demonstrated leadership skills; I know they know people can grow into a job, sometimes in very little time.

Perhaps, in my current case, I have a “failure to communicate.” I’m a little scattered sometimes (I don’t want to admit I’m like Dory – from Finding Nemo – and that bright lights will move my attention from one thing to another); perhaps I should have focused more on the straight counseling & crisis intervention skills and experiences: my nearly-a-decade work as the clinical director for a volunteer crisis intervention team serving six cities and four counties in southeastern Virginia, my service as a counselor and mediator for the Coast Guard’s civil rights programs, my experience as a lay chaplain at Boy Scout camp... Instead, during the interview, I guess I focused on systems issues.

So, here’s where I am right now: my breath was stolen and I’m not sure how to respond. I guess, in part, I already have, since Pam from St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill is likely lurking here. If that’s the case, I guess I have, sort’a, responded... and now all my self-doubt is in the open... Along with a slew of other baggage, eh?

Here are words of wisdom received from a wise and seasoned independent school person who wrote me earlier this week:
It's still really early, so I wouldn't worry if things feel like they are slowing. There are often schools still searching to fill positions in June, so you have some time.
Time? Time! Sometimes, I feel as if the clock is spinning out of control, the hands spiraling around at the speed of light, becoming nothing more than a blur.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Philosophy of education, take one

Done and uploaded. And another item to cross off my to-do list.

This morning, I've finished my "philosophy of educatation" (at least the first take). You can find it here. I've also placed a link over to the right along with the other "stuff."

For those who are wondering how the search progresses... well, no news to pass at the moment. Nothing new. Here's to hoping today brings news that propels the call forward.

Monday, February 13, 2006

"Calling" or "profession"?

While surfing around, I came across a blog by a junior high school teacher. The post says, in part,
By thinking of teaching as a "calling" rather than a profession, we are more put into the ranks of nuns and missionaries, rather than highly trained professionals.
Needless to say, I don't quite agree. Perhaps I don't agree because I am focused on residential learning communities; I'm solely focused on landing in a college-prep, secondary, independent, boarding school. And, yes, being a faculty member in this type of school is like being a monk or a nun. And, I take issue with JHS Teacher that calling and profession are mutually exclusive. Tell that to the slew of Jesuits who are both... and to the many others who are professionals and yet called to do some particular work.

Perhaps, when the "job" is only 8 to 3, it's easy to see the role of teacher not as a calling. Try living the life 24x7 and not seeing it as a calling. You'll likely not last too long.

So, I know I'm called. But the journey to get there is not easy. What journey of worth is, right? Received today following one of my not-so-recent interviews: As we have gotten further into our planning for next year, we have changed course slightly... I want to scream out, "I still meet your needs, even your new needs! Me! Me! Look over here again."

Too desperate, don't you think? Perhaps I ought to take a subtler approach...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The light at the end of the tunnel

Originally uploaded by Liberté, Égalité, Safari.
I'd like to say I see the blinding light at the end of the tunnel.

But, I don't see the light. Perhaps I'm not looking in the right direction.

I've moved past the enthusiasm of the early part of the search, and seem to dread the long haul that's in front of me. Or, perhaps I'm just blinded by the snow. ;-)

So, if you gathered, we seem to be at something of a stand still, at least on my end. I haven't heard a thing from anyone in days; there's a part of me that is thinking David Rath's recent dissertation on faculty turnover at independent schools was too much on the mark; his research indicated stability in most faculties with a dearth of openings this recruiting season.

I've continued thinking about my philosophy of education and, particularly, the role of adults in an independent, secondary, boarding school.

I view all adults in the school community as "teachers," but I don't see teachers as people who serve up facts and tidbits. I see teachers as coaches and facilitators. I buy into the notion that teenagers learn best when they are engaged and actively involved. Some schools base their curriculums on "experiential learning" or "five senses learning." (See Leelanau or Baylor or Scattergood for example) In truth, there should likely be some aspect of experience in every school.

Years ago, while suffering through an education course in graduate school, I learned about pedagogy; pedagogy, we learn, is "the art and science of educating children" and is often used as a "synonym for teaching. Today, pedagogy is the term which more accurately "embodies teacher-focused education." The teacher is the expert. Students receive; teachers send out the message. When most of us think of teacher this is the model we likely think about: the teacher standing in front of the class, all the students in their chairs in neat rows & paying close attention, and the teacher presenting the information.

Recently, while actively engaged in another education class, I learned about andragogy, which some have taken to mean "the art and science of helping adults learn," but more aptly refers to "learner-focused education for people of all ages." When a teacher comes at learning from an andragogic perspective, things look much different. There's more hands on, there's more group work, there's more student presentations, there's more chaos, there's more active learning.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." Attributed to Einstein, this sums up what I see as the role of a teacher. We excite; we guide.

Perhaps most important is the notion that learning is not preparation for life or some aspect of life (for instance, preparation for college), but, rather, learning is life.

All of us are learners; some of us just happen to have the title of teacher.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

While the wind hasn't shifted...

... I do seem to have a found a lull in the breeze.

I'm hoping the lull is because schools are beginning to nail down their faculty and administrative needs for next year... rather than, well, something else...

It's like when the boss calls you in to the office, you always expect the worst; and, nine times out of ten, you're wrong.

I'm working on an educational philosophy, or guiding principles, statement. At the moment, all I have are scribbles in a well-worn composition notebook.
  • College prep does not mean the school prepares students for freshman year at college. Rather, I see it as a mission to (1) prepare students for four-years of success and (2) turn them into life-long learners. We need to turn each student on to something, whether it's history or architecture or dance or fiction or plants or sailing.

  • One role of adults in a boarding school is to balance support with challenge. For those that remember their developmental psychology, yes, this looks a lot like Chickering's psychosocial theory of student development. Hmmm. Maybe I was paying attention during the course work for the first master's degree.

  • Good secondary, independent schools are not about regurgitation of facts. As a teacher -- and all adults in a boarding school are teachers -- I want students to learn to think, to use facts in new situations, to get beyond dates and plot summaries. I like the idea of exhibition and defense as proposed by Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools. And, yes, I've read their Common Principles. Hopefully, I haven't plagiarized; they make sense to me, however. In many ways, they seem like common sense. And, yes, as you can tell, these principles have had an impact on my own thinking.

  • We want students to see themselves as citizens of the school community, of the United States, and of the earth. They have an obligation to themselves, their heirs, and their neighbors -- even those "neighbors" who live in the jungles of Brazil or the mountains of Tibet.

  • Learning happens everywhere in a boarding school, in the classroom, on the playing fields, on the deck of a boat, in the dining hall, in a dormitory room, and in a faculty home. And, learning happens when it is least expected... for the teacher. Students learn when we, as the adult, don't think it is a learning moment. Surprise! Every moment, particularly the unscripted, is a learning moment.

  • Small is good. While Gladwell might suggest schools should be no larger than 150 people, I'm not sure that is possible. Certainly, 600 students is too large. Maybe 450 is, too; I'm not sure. I don't think it is possible for a school to be too small, at least from a learning (not fiscal) perspective.

  • Key stakeholders -- administrators, faculty, board members, students, parents, alumni -- all need to be intentional in their creation of a school. A school is a system, and a systems perspective is necessary; and, a school is something that ought to be created first in the minds eye and in the lives of the stakeholders.

  • Transparency is a good thing; transparency is a great thing; transparency is a necessary thing. I believe in transparency in decision making, budgeting, policy creation and implementation, grading rubrics, expectations, and other things I can't even remember to list here.
Now, if I could just craft these ramblings into something coherent...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Searching for a job vs. being called for a life

Spire Top
Originally uploaded by Bucky O'Hare.
Things have slowed down. I'm not sure what I would expect, but everything has come to a grinding halt. Three interviews and, suddenly, nothing.

I'm not searching for a job, but I am answering "a call." However, unless I get my name "out there" there will be no call at all. I've sent letters to 88 schools, with the last batch going out just this past weekend. It's just a lull, I'm sure, but I want answers.

Things which still need doing:

1. Notes to the folks I've met with over the past couple of weeks.

2. Follow-up with all the headmasters who have replied to my original inquiry.

3. Figure out a way to get the NAIS position postings delivered to my inbox or RSS reader so I don't have to log in to the site every day.

4. Continue networking.

5. Find a couple of other folks who are looking for appointments to independent school faculties and form a cohort or support group.

6. Write a "statement" about my philosophy of working with students, being in a residential community, and teaching.

And who said I didn't have much to do?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

But I'm not wearing my pajamas

A school in the snow
Originally uploaded by Tidewater Muse.
On an interview, and the head's administrative assistant says to me, "Almost didn't recognize you in that conservative suit. I thought you might show up in your pajamas."

"Ooops," thought I. "Once again, remember people actually read your blog."

Yup. Like the time the admiral asked me who'd been fired and did he need to intervene. Ah, so it goes.

Three interviews. Hopefully three invitations to return to campus, and a chance to continue the conversations.

I love interviewing, getting the chance to see schools, see what works, see some good ideas. Today, saw some excellent & enthusiastic teaching at a friendly school. When I asked a couple of administrators what made their school different from others, what set them apart from the competition, they said the school, the community, was "like family." I wonder how you can market that.

Does a school need something they can hang their hat on? I think so. I need to check the demographics, but what I've heard is that the pool of high school aged students is getting smaller, while, at the same time, the number of families that can actually afford boarding schools (at least at the full pay level) has dropped by some 75% to less than one percent of the families in America. A slippage from 4% to less than 1%: I figure some schools are going to either close their doors or become schools for non-native speakers of the English language.

And so it goes. Three interviews complete. A couple more hot prospects. And a good half-a-dozen on the hook.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One down. Two more on the calendar.

One interview down. Two more next week. This week, I'm actually working... ;-)

I thought the interview went well. After my last post, I wandered around, talked to a few students, walked the halls, and visited the athletic complex. Everyone I met was friendly; the students all claimed they liked being at the school. The most negative I heard was the weather.

I went down to check in to the hotel and change for the evening: chapel attire, you know. The room was great: spacious & plush & well-appointed. I changed into my suit and then headed back to the school for dinner and chapel.

The food at dinner was good: roast chicken, beef stir fry... I was in 7th heaven: carb free. I sat for a while with two hockey players; they seemed bright, funny, articulate. Good kids. When they left, I moved over and sat with a couple of teachers. Friendly; committed; diligent; humorous.

After dinner, I headed over to chapel. Now, I generally like church services: the liturgy, the sense of peace, the music, the calm, the sense of reverence. Not so here. It was as if we were on a race to finish. All the boarding students attended; only six faculty members were in the congregation, and they were taking attendance. There wasn't a non-on-duty faculty member in the room.

When I spoke to my bride that evening, I mentioned I thought this was odd. If the object is to torture students and faculty members, success. If the object is to have a community gather for a spiritual hour, a time when people of every faith can gather in a quiet time, well, no success there. I'm not sure the setup is intentional in nature. What do I mean by intentional? What I mean is that we do things consciously, intentionally. We create community, we don't just let it happen haphazardly. Why do we do what we do? What do we want to get out of if? If Sunday services are a time for a community to gather, then create such a thing. Sure, it's the Eucharist straight out of the Book of Common Prayer, but 42 minutes (with music)? A read sermon delivered from the nave? The breaking of bread as a time trial?

I know it's difficult. But, hey, let's talk about it.

Jennifer said I'd better not talk about it, better not get on my high horse, better not get passionate, better not tell them how to run their school. After all, I don't want to start out on the wrong foot.

True enough, but an observation is an observation; a paradigm is a paradigm. And, I am who I am.

As it turns out, several people asked me what I thought about the service when they learned I'd attended; and, I told them; and, they didn't appear to disagree.

After all, I'm just making observations and asking questions. And, if that's not okay, I'm likely not going to fit in anyway.

Monday dawned late; I arrived on campus a couple minutes after seven for a 0700 interview over breakfast with one of the associate heads. I fixed a plate, sat down with a couple of faculty members, started eating & chatting, and waited for the associate head. At 25 after, I mentioned to those I was sitting with that it was odd that she wasn't there.

"You know," said one helpful possible-future colleague, "there's a dining hall at the other campus."

Oops. I'm not off to a good start.

As it turns out, the rest of the day went well, aside from the fact I ran late the entire time, bouncing from person to person to person.

We'll see what happens; they actually aren't sure what position they have. I know; sounds odd. But, it's not. It's a new position. & they want to carve out the position based not only on their needs, but the strengths of whomever gets the job. The person, the fit, is most important.

Well, I can relate to that: for me, the place, the organization, the community is most important.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I'm in a foreign land

Sunday afternoon. I've arrived in the Midwest for the first interview of the season. I drove down from the airport and arrived in town shortly after noon. After driving around a bit, I found the hotel where the school is putting me up. Small place; I think it's a bar with a couple of rooms over top. The bottom line: the room will not be ready until 3pm. So, I drove out to campus.

I'm currently sitting in the library, a room that looks like it's out of a some stereotypical English boarding school film. Actually, the whole campus -- at least what little I've seen -- does. But, then, don't many?

Yesterday I was in class -- Statistical Methods -- and we somehow got talking about how anxiety impacts performance. And the professor made a comment which struck me at the moment. He said that some stress, some anxiety, is actually helpful in creating high performance. Those of us that aren't stressed, well, we're not pushed.

I thought about my current job. I realized that, indeed, I'm no longer anxious about any aspect of my job. I can very easily do what I need to do; there's no stretching, there's no growth, there's no challenge.

I think this is what excites me about coming back into the independent school realm. Something new and challenging.

I'm particularly interested in the role of school counselor. The interview here is for the newly-created position of school counselor. One of the southern schools which I'm interested in is also creating a school counseling position.

These are not to be confused with college counseling or residential counselors; from what I gather, both of these schools want someone who will do personal counseling as well as develop and implement various development programs.

This excites me.

So, the library: Three students are here. One young man is asleep in an overstuffed chair, and two young ladies are working at a computer. They're writing a paper... for their class on the history of Japan.

Well, off to poke around.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The phone calls keep coming

Cascades of ice 2
Originally uploaded by emjulien.
Had several phone calls today with folks at three schools. One call with the dean of students at a small, New England school. They have a non-teaching, dorm master position open. We had a good talk, and I like what I hear about the school, but the job doesn't thrill me. I don't think I'd have enough variety to keep me satisfied.

Second call was with another small, New England school. This call was with an admissions rep; before I'd heard the call to return to an independent school faculty, Andrew & I were talking about boarding school for him. We'd sent off for information from a host of schools. Anyway, this school also sounded like a great place to be, both for faculty and for students. We shall see.

And the third call was with the head of a southern school. The head had been at a school in Virginia, and I suspect we have some common acquaintenances. That call was cut short as he had to go off to a meeting; we'll pick up tomorrow.

So, things roll around. So far, I'd say I have much more of a chance ending up in a cold climate than anywhere else.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Things are starting to get real

Well, things are starting to get real. At work, people are asking if I'm really going to leave my perceived cushy job. "Damn straight," I say.

Had a preliminary phone interview with a headmaster of a school out in the western part of the Commonwealth. It went okay -- we've agreed to a visit to the campus later this month -- but I thought I sounded a bit like a duffus. You can learn a great deal by looking at a school's website and reading the school's literature; what are those things that stuff doesn't tell you. I didn't have any questions at the ready. I could have asked things such as these gems:
  • What sets your school apart from competitors?

  • Tell me about the school's culture and your purpose, vision, mission, and values.

  • How to you inculcate your purpose, vision, mission, and values into what happens daily on campus?

  • How does technology impact teaching and learning at the school?

  • Tell me about your "prize" facility or building? Where is the school lacking in terms of facilities?

  • What systems and processes are in place to create an environment for organizational and faculty/staff learning?

  • Tell me about the fiscal state of the school.

  • What is your strategic planning process? Who are the key participants in the strategic planning process? What are your key strategic objectives, associated goals, and timetable for accomplishing them?

  • How do you ensure all key stakeholders are lined up and working toward your strategic objectives?

  • How do you identify the student and market segments your educational programs will address?

  • How do you determine key requirements, needs, and expectations for students and key stakeholders?

  • What are the school's key performance measures concerning student learning, daily operations, and overall organizational performance, including progress on strategic objectives and action plans?

  • How do you review organizational performance?

  • How do you support faculty and staff?

  • Tell me about your compensation, recognition, and reward & incentive practices; how do these support and reinforce high-performance work and a focus on students & stakeholders?
I'm running out of energy, but not ideas.

For those of you who know me, yes, I've been looking at the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Hey, what can I say? The system works, baby. The system works.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Interviews and getting lost

Today is the day for the January administration of the SSAT, the Secondary School Admission Test. Andrew, my eldest son, is taking the test as I write this. We're at Saint Catherine's in Richmond. We drove up yesterday afternoon; it was a leasurely drive with no traffic to speak of until we hit Richmond and I-95. Had dinner at Red, Hot, & Blue -- Andrew's choice. Great pulled pork in a Memphis-themed restaurant. Stayed the night at a Courtyard. We got to bed early & woke up on time; had a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel. And then... Got lost on the way here.

Urgh. I'd made everything as relaxing as possible, and then I'm driving like a bat-out-of-hell trying to find the school. And, of course, the faster I drove, I wasn't getting any closer, if you know what I mean. We got here on time, but...

As to some good news (gaining a little control of myself): I have two interviews scheduled for the next couple of weeks. One is with a school in the mid-West, and the other is with a school here in Commonwealth. Both are coed; both are Episcopal schools; one has less than 250 students and the other is 250-400; both have more boarding students than day students. I am very excited about the possibilities they both provide. One prospective job is as the school counselor; the other job is a traditional teaching faculty position. Both would likely involve residential life & coaching responsibilities.

I hope our little trip didn't throw Andrew off this morning and that he fares well on the test...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The school for me; the role for me

I've been giving great thought to where I want to end up and what I want to be doing. I'm not sure it's not enough to just know I want to be at an independent boarding school; actually, I know that's not enough.

First, what sort of a community am I looking for?

I'm looking for a school that, above all else, knows what it is and is honest about what it is. I know too many places that claim one thing -- say, academic excellence -- and then do something else in a systematic manner (like dumbing down courses). I think this is the primary thing I'm looking for: a clear vision and mission; transparency.

I graduated from Saint James School. Saint James then and Saint James now are similar in many ways: the school knew what it was and was honest to that vision; the school knows what it is today, and is honest to that vision. The headmaster today, Father Stuart Dunnan (once one of the youngest current heads of any American boarding school), has a clear vision of what Saint James is, and he has worked to get everyone -- faculty, alumni, parents, other key stakeholders -- on the same page and moving in the same direction.

It's like Nemo.

"Huh?" you mumble.

Finding Nemo. The movie. Have you seen it? At the end of the movie Nemo and then Dora get caught up in nets. The secret is for all the fish in the net to swim down together. Too many organizations -- independent schools included -- are like the school of big, gray fish: everybody is moving this way and that way or floundering about. What Father Dunnan has done is gotten everyone to swim in the same direction. Purpose. Knowledge. Transparency.

I want to work in a school where everyone is swimming in the same direction.

What else? I'd like a community where I feel comfortable and where my family -- Jenny, Elliot, Richard, and Andrew -- feel comfortable. Conservative, liberal, casual, formal, uniformed or not... these things really don't matter. I see benefit in each choice; I can thrive in each milieu.

Ideally, I'd land at a school with fewer than 250 students, but larger is okay, too. Saint James is something like 225 today (was 165 when I graduated); Sem (where I taught years ago) is some 450 today; I think it was 375 when I was there. Again, there's pros and cons to both large and small, but I my preference (easily swayed, I'm sure) is smaller.

I'm enamored of Ted Sizer's work and the Coalition for Essential Schools. I'm intrigued by John Krumboltz's bias against grades. I believe in andragogy, not pedagogy.

About roles: I'm old school. I like the notion of the triple threat. I can't imagine working in a school community and not teaching at least one class & having residential responsibilities. And, I enjoy the interaction with students on the playing fields, in the theatre, or around the yearbook layout table.

Finally, selfishly, I want to maintain the same basic standard of living I have now: no commute, family time, and a decent wage. I certainly don't expect to make anywhere near what I make now (I'm a GS-12 with the feds), but I certainly expect to be remunerated appropriate to my professional experience (6 years teaching and 16 years of consulting, leadership, writing , training, and management experience) and education (B.A., M.Ed., M.A., and a nearly-in-hand Ed.D.).

I'm not asking for much, am I? ;-)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Why move? Why not remain in Portsmouth/Norfolk?

I live just several blocks from the two buildings in the foreground, the Renaissance Hotel and Harbor Tower here in Portsmouth. As you can tell -- well, hopefully you can -- I live in a vibrant urban area. I do love it it here. I'm not fulfilled, professionally, however.

I'm looking to make a difference in the lives of students and the life of a school community. Sure, I can make a difference in my current role as an organizational performance consultant, but the impact is -- at least as I perceive it -- minimal.

A couple of years ago while surfing the net, I Googled my name, and, lo and behold, this is what I found on the last page of dozens of pages of cites about "Peter Stinson":
8. Who/what was your favorite teacher in school and why?

This is a very difficult question because I had a lot of great teachers. I would have to say Peter Stinson from Wyoming Seminary. He was an English teacher for my 11th and 12th grade classes in various subjects. Basically, I was rapidly dying because of my hatred of life from public school and I acted out quite a bit. One thing he did was instead of writing me off, he took the time to emphasize my positive traits and to try to get me to believe in myself. I won't say that he performed a miracle and made me completely adjusted, but he did get me to actually start not hating, if not enjoying life. I feel that he is the reason that I became so interested in writing.
The post is now gone, having been lost by the ether or buried with the demise of the bulletin board to which these words were posted.

The post struck me, not because I had an impact, but because of the student who wrote it. I remember him, but he wasn't a student who spent time in my apartment or played on the lacrosse team or worked in the theatre. As a matter of fact, I don't remember doing anything special or out-of-the-ordinary with him.

Did I make a difference? Well, maybe here with this former student. I had an impact, and I didn't even have an inkling of it. I'm looking forward to another opportunity to serve in an independent boarding school.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Do I "seek" or am I "called"?

I've been giving thought to the whole search process, starting at the very beginning. Do I seek a place in an independent boarding school, or am I called to an independent boarding school. In my letters & emails, I've been using the word "seek," but I don't think seek is really accurate. Good school-people are called, like priests and monastics. It is, in many ways, like the life of a monk: cloistered, community, purposeful, service, duty, & dedication.

Perhaps this is what sets apart the boarding faculty member from the day faculty member. A position in a boarding school is a 7x24 life. It is similar to life in the military: it's not a job; it is a life.

When I was the executive petty officer at a Coast Guard boat station on Lake Michigan, I was "on the job" every minute of every day. There was little -- or no -- downtime. I thrived on it. Like I thrived on being a member of the faculty earlier in my career. I don't have that sense of purpose now; my job as a consultant is just that, a job.

We are not "called" to jobs. We are called to live life, and sometimes we are called to live life in a particular way in a particular place. I feel it in my gut, know it in my mind, taste it in my mouth: I am called to be a part of a school community, to teach, to learn, to help, to make a difference.

I am called, and still I seek to find out where the call will take me.

A NOTE: I have at this point sent out 54 letters of interest to 54 different schools. I've gotten a few emails in return; some nice words. I just hope they're not just nice words but have some substance behind them.
Thank you for your good letter and thorough description.

I appreciate your approach.

Your experience and credentials are very impressive.

your credentials and experience offer us several possibilities to explore

We are very interested in having a chance to talk about job opportunities here!

Thanks for your interest in our school. I was impressed by your knowledge of the school (e.g. the Coalition) and by what you could offer a school such as ours.

We would love to meet with you in the new year after our Board meetings in January.... My one worry would be that you might not be a "stayer" once you get your PhD.--we will talk of this and other more important things before you come.
I guess the next two months will be telling.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Just why did I leave?

final exam
Originally uploaded by dcJohn.
This past Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking with the head of a mid-western independent boarding school. He'd received my email the day before and wanted to chat about the possibilities. During the course of the conversation, he asked why I'd left teaching more than a decade ago. I'd been on the faculty for six years; what made me leave?

There are, I believe, a myriad of reasons why any of us do anything, but I left that independent school for two primary reasons. First, I wanted to live in a cabin in the woods and write. Second, I didn't want to be a part of a school where change was implemented deceitfully.

I did go to the woods and write. We moved to the woods in north western Virginia and lived in a cabin up a mountain near Linden, Virginia. I didn't write the great American novel, but I did finish a still-unsold-screenplay, Storm Warriors.

As to deceitful change... I am about transparency. Say what you do. Do what you say. Do it in the open. I think this is tough for many organizations, particularly those going through a transition period. It is, however, incumbent on the leaders of the organization to lead... that is to set the vision and get all stakeholders lined up and headed toward that goal. And, good leaders do this all in plain sight. From where I sat at that time, what I saw was a new head making changes without regard to key stakeholders and without involving key stakeholders. That's not the type of community I want to live and work in.

There's another, reciprocal question I expect to be asked. Why go back to teaching now?

Like I noted earlier, there are a myriad of reasons each of us decide to jump in a particular direction. For me, now, two reasons loom large. First, professionally, I'm ready for something different. I've been working as an organizational consultant for nearly ten years; the challenge has faded. Second, I've acquired a slew of learning in the last couple of years I'd like to put to some use in an environment outside of government and in a smaller organization. Third, I'd like to know I really make a difference; I don't get that in my current role. And, fourth, I'd like my family to enjoy the benefits, growth, and community of an independent boarding school.